According to Governor Inslee, state government has an “obligation” to pour many more billions of dollars into Washington’s K-12 schools. That’s on top of the additional billions budgeted by the Legislature for basic education in the past four years.
“In this day and age, we owe our kids and parents more,” the governor declared on Dec. 13, in the course of unveiling his plan to raise taxes by $8.7 billion. He proposes to steer about half of that new revenue into the K-12 system, where it would go toward providing “a great teacher in the classroom and access to the programs and services we know they [students] need.”
Now lay Inslee’s declarations next to a Dec. 16 report from the non-partisan Washington Policy Center, which found (based on federal statistics) that our state leads the nation in strikes by teachers. In 2015 three of the 12 largest labor disruptions in the nation took place here, in the form of school closures.
Inslee speaks of providing great teachers but not of what he would do to keep them in their classrooms. In this day and age, to borrow his words, aren’t Washington’s kids and parents owed more than a school year disrupted by a teacher strike? How far would Inslee go to prevent a walkout so students don’t lose access, even for a day, to those great classroom teachers and school-based programs and services?
Benge Elementary in southeast Adams County, a K-6 school that is the district’s only facility, and Jefferson Elementary in Pullman, part of a much larger district, are among the schools I visited this fall. They illustrate how differences in the tax base and cost of living and quality of life can influence teacher recruiting and educational opportunities for their respective students. Many of us are determined to look out for the needs of rural schools like Benge as we respond to the McCleary education-funding case, and that has made the challenge greater. We will find a way to address the disparity called out by the state Supreme Court – but who will address the inequities that result when one school district is forced to shell out more local money for teacher salaries because it wants to end or prevent a strike? The Legislature can’t make teacher strikes more illegal than they already are.
As the father and father-in-law of public-school teachers, and with my eldest grandchild now in kindergarten, I appreciate the work teachers do and want to see them receive proper compensation. Paying for education with existing tax dollars first, as our Senate majority has worked to do these past four years, is exactly what we should continue doing under the “paramount duty” clause in Washington’s constitution.
Clearly, Inslee thinks Washingtonians should be giving billions more to state government, either through higher taxes on employers or through the increased costs that consumers inevitably pay when taxes go up. But it is disingenuous to use schools as the primary excuse, especially when there is no reason to believe that even a massive tax increase would end the threat of teacher strikes.